Ask the Author: Julie Hanson

Julie Hanson is an award winning poet and former graduate of the University of Iowa and Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Hanson spoke to The Daily Iowan about her recent poetry book, The Audible and the Evident, and the evolution of her writing process.


Grace Kreber

Author, poet, and University of Iowa Writers Workshop alumn, Julie Hanson, poses for a portrait in downtown Iowa City on Oct. 24, 2021.

Cassandra Parsons, Arts Reporter

Julie Hanson is the author of Unbeknownst, an Iowa Poetry Prize winner and 2012 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist, and The Audible and the Evident, selected for the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. Her work has earned fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center, as well as publication in New Ohio Review, VOLT, Plume, Copper Nickel, and other journals. She holds an MA in expository writing from the University of Iowa and an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This interview has been edited for clarity.

DI: Has your writing process changed since you started writing?

Hanson: It has changed because I am now 69 years old. The most important thing is I’m in a writing group. I live in Cedar Rapids and over the years, most of us have been graduates of the workshop. I found that if I kept an electronic journal, and maybe a day or two before we’re supposed to meet — if I still didn’t have anything — I tell you what, just open it up, put something in there. And don’t worry about it, and it doesn’t have to be complete, just jot something down. And then I just mess around with it all day until it’s time to come. But I almost always can find a way to take that little fragment of language and do something with it. Another thing is — when I was in the workshop, my first teacher was Marvin Bell — and he always used to say, “read poems, write a poem.” You know, read poetry. I don’t usually think I realize I’m having a relationship with something I read. I’m more likely to realize I have a relationship with something I’ve just experienced like in my family or in, you know, in the wider world that has stirred up my disappointment in myself, or my anger, or my curiosity, or something, and I jot something down and then I see where it leads. So, anything and everything is a valid excuse to write.


DI: Can you tell me about your poem, “The Clacklet?”


Hanson: It’s one of my favorites. It really is what it says. Here’s why it’s my favorite: it took forever. I didn’t continuously work on it. But I worked on it a lot and went through a lot of drafts, and I probably learned a great deal over those years about writing. At a certain point it became very, very fun to work on it. Every time I worked on it, I had a ball. It was just a fun ride. It has so many feelings in it. It starts out with, I don’t know, it certainly has some level of disappointment, it has anger, and then has forgiveness. That’s a bundle. It’s a bundle of human experience, and it’s all just in our domestic family and this little trinket I made so, you know, I like it for that reason. On the other hand, then, is probably one of my favorite poems, and it’s in my new book, The Audible and the Evident.

DI: Is there anything you like to write about specifically?

Hanson: Anything that generates writing is perfectly valid to me, you know, it gets me going. I think I have a lot of nature in my poems. I wouldn’t call them “nature poems,” but I have a lot of nature in my poems. I find, as I’ve gotten older, in the current world that we have, going back to my world weariness statement: Nature is a really great consolation. It’s got beauty, it’s got variety, it’s got moods, it doesn’t mislead you and never lies. It might change. You might think it’s not gonna rain and then it does. But if you have a garden, you’re pretty glad.

DI: Was there anything specific that led you to becoming a poet?

Hanson: I was very briefly a journalism major [at Drake University], but I knew I wasn’t going to be a journalist — I was too shy. I couldn’t interview people like you’re doing right now, you brave thing. But I actually took a course in high school on journalism, but I soon learned that I was terrified of interviewing. And so I earned all my points through headlines. I got the two points I have, and that occurs to me now. That was probably good practice to writing poetry because it’s compressed. You’re reading the article, you’re saying, ‘How can I reduce this,’ you know, ‘in some grabby-way.’ I mean, grabby would never be a poet’s word for what they’re doing but, you know, that will make somebody want to read what follows, right, but what follows wasn’t what I wrote. So, it’s not the same as titling a poem, but it’s just the idea that you’re trying to express something concisely in an interesting manner, and I think that’s the parallel. I changed majors a couple of times before I was an English major. And then I thought, well, I better get a teaching certificate. So I did that, too. And I did teach a while when I was younger.

DI:  What level of education did you teach?

Hanson: I taught high school English at first and then, you know, when I went to graduate school here in Iowa, I was a TA and I worked in the writing lab under Lou Kelly. But you know, I was pursuing my own degree, so it was just a small dose of teaching one class rhetoric. And then when I finished the workshop, I was pregnant. And my second degree — my most recent degree — was the poetry one in the graduate level. And you can write a draft of a poem during a baby’s nap. And so I really never went back to essay writing in a way that’s like a daily practice for me, you know. I’ve written little, teeny essay things about the writing process or something in answer to what a journal wants or an interview or whatever. I just stayed with poetry and kept pursuing that, and it’s great. It’s wonderful. So, I didn’t ever get disenchanted.